Proposal (159) to South American Classification Committee


Change English name of Myrmotherula grisea to "Yungas Antwren"


Effect on South American Check-list: This proposal would change the English name of a species on our list, Myrmotherula grisea, from "Ashy Antwren", a Meyer de Schauensee name, to "Yungas Antwren", a Ridgely name.


BackgroundMyrmotherula grisea was described by Carriker in 1935. Since Meyer de Schauensee (1966, 1970), it has gone by the English name of "Ashy Antwren". Ridgely and Tudor (1994) employed "Yungas Antwren", with the following explanation:


"As many other male Myrmotherula antwrens are equally "ashy", it seems preferable to emphasize this species' very small range by employing a geographical epithet in its English name. M. grisea is endemic to the yungas of Bolivia."


Clements (2000) continued to use "Ashy Antwren", which is also used on our Base List. Zimmer & Isler (2003) went with "Yungas Antwren" in Volume 8 of HBW.


Analysis: "Ashy Antwren" is an established name, and although the name is not diagnostic, it is descriptive of the male plumage, and, is therefore not inaccurate. "Yungas Antwren" is, in my opinion, a far better name in that it is more informative, conveying information on the habitat and range of a bird that is endemic to the Yungas forests of Bolivia. It has the advantage of applying equally well to both males and females [female grisea are mostly rufescent brown, and are decidedly not "ashy"]. By highlighting an increasingly endangered habitat, the name may also have some conservation value (Although, interestingly, BirdLife International 2000 stuck with "Ashy Antwren"). These were the reasons Mort Isler and I went with "Yungas Antwren" in HBW. There is also some question as to how established the name "Ashy Antwren" is, given that the bird is a little-known species with a tiny range, and has probably not penetrated far into the consciousness of the ornithological or birding communities.


Recommendation: I am going to punt on this one for the time being. I really could go either way. I think that "Yungas Antwren" is a far better name, and were we starting from scratch in describing the species today, that would be my recommendation, hands-down. However, I'm generally opposed to sacrificing stability for an improved name, provided the established name is not misleading or inaccurate. The question in my mind, is whether the improved name, combined with any possible conservation benefits, would be enough to trump the loss of stability.


Literature Cited

BIRDLIFE INTERNATIONAL. 2000. Threatened birds of the world. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

CLEMENTS, J. F. 2000. Birds of the world: a checklist. Fifth Edition. Ibis Publishing Company, Vista, California.

MEYER DE SCHAUENSEE, R. 1966. The species of birds of South America, with their distribution. Livingston Publishing Company, Narberth, Pennsylvania.

MEYER DE SCHAUENSEE, R. 1970. A guide to the birds of South America. Livingston Publishing Company, Wynnewood, Pennsylvania (Reprinted by International Council for Bird Preservation 1982).

RIDGELY, R. S., AND G. TUDOR. 1994. Birds of South America, Volume II: the suboscine passerines. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.

ZIMMER, K. J., AND M. L. ISLER. 2003. Family Thamnophilidae (Typical Antbirds). Pp. 448­681 in: DEL HOYO, J., ELLIOTT, A., & CHRISTIE, D. A. eds. (2003). Handbook of Birds of the World. Vol. 8. Broadbills to Tapaculos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.


Kevin J. Zimmer, December 2004




Comments from Remsen: "NO. I'm biased on this one, because as one of the few people who has seen and published on this species, it has always been "Ashy Antwren" to me. As Kevin noted, if we were starting from scratch, "Yungas" would be better. But following Bob's rationale above, we also ought to rename "Gray Antwren" and so on. The only reason I hesitate to vote NO on this is that not only did Kevin and Mort use "Yungas" in HBW, but so also did the latest "Lista anotada de las aves de Bolivia" (Armonia), even though they otherwise followed SACC almost universally."


Comments from Robbins: "YES. Given that the name is an improvement and it has been used by Ridgely & Tudor and more recently by Zimmer & Isler (2003), I vote to change the English name of Myrmotherula grisea from Ashy Antwren to Yungas Antwren."


Comments from Jaramillo: "YES. I like that the name is an improvement, but I am swayed strongly by the fact that HBW and the Bolivian checklist went with Yungas Antwren. Given the small range and rarity of this bird, so few people have had to utter the name "Ashy Antwren" that I don't think that this name change will cause confusion, and one fewer antbird that is not grey, black, blackish, silvery or whatever is fine with me."


Comments from Stiles: "YES. Against: "Ashy" is not inappropriate, just nondistinctive as scads of male antbirds are some shade of grey (or gray); also, it has history on its side. For: "Yungas" is clearly appropriate and distinctive, and was used in a standard publication (HBW) destined to have wide readership - more than the publications using "Ashy". Moreover, as I mentioned in a couple of other proposals, I rather strongly favor toponyms for forms of restricted distributions, especially when they actually or potentially have conservation problems (This didn't save "Guaiquinima Redstart", but I still feel the same way)."


Comments from Pacheco: "YES. Entendo que o nome proposto é de fato bastante apropriado. O uso de "Yungas Antwren", sobretudo, no HBW fortalece esta opção."


Comments from Silva: "NO. I would prefer to keep the stability of the name. If we approved this proposal, I think we have also to reanalyze all English names proposed so far, because most of them are inaccurate as well as contribute very little for focus attention on the conservation of specific places."


Comments from Zimmer: "YES. After hearing how others feel about it, I'm tipped in favor of changing to what I've always felt was a much better name. Since we used it in HBW, I think "Yungas Antwren" probably has more familiarity to it by now than does "Ashy Antwren".


Comments from Nores: "NO. Como puede verse en el HBW es la única especie del género Myrmotherula en la que el macho es totalmente gris o ceniciento ("ashy"), por lo que el nombre Ashy Antwren es para mí muy apropiado. Todas las otras especies grises de Myrmotherula tienen la garganta o las alas de otro color. Además, la altitud donde ha sido encontrada esta especie (500-1650 m), está en el límite con Amazonia por lo que no es típicamente una "Yungas bird", y todavía es factible que aparezca en Amazonia."